Paper 2

The Paper 2 exam consists of six essay questions, only one of which must be answered during the timed period. The essay is to be written about the Part 3 literary texts. Therefore, it is a test of understanding literature in context. Although the questions will change from exam to exam, they will always focus on the connection between, style, form, author, purpose and audience. Selecting good Part 3 texts is therefore essential. 

These pages offer an overview of the requirements, the criteria, sample student work and tips on Paper 2 essay writing. Besides familiarizing yourself with these pages, you will want to study previous exam questions, practice writing under exam conditions and research your literary texts carefully. You can find several activities that help you develop the skills you need for the Paper 2 exam on the 'skills' page. 

Although it seems as if a quarter of your IB grade is determined in one brief sitting, in fact you can do a lot to prepare for this exam so that it is not so nerve-racking. Careful planning and a clear strategy are half the battle. What one writes is only the tip of a very large iceberg. 

The basics

  •   Answer 1 of 6 essay questions. SL and HL students receive exactly the same 6 questions.
  •  Essay must answer one question in relation to both literary texts that were studied for Part 3.
  •  Essay must answer one question in relation to 2 or 3 of the literary texts studied for Part 3.
  • has 1.5 hours to answer this essay question. 
  • has 2 hours to answer this essay question.
  •   Paper 2 grade counts for 25% of the final grade.

Sample questions

Are you curious to see what Paper 2 questions look like? Here is a sample of questions that represent the kinds of questions that could appear on the exam. They are inspired by the sample questions that appear in the Language A: Language and Literature guide. 

  1. Explain how the authors of at least two literary works have portrayed a social group in a particular way. How might the contexts of the authors have influenced their portrayal of these social groups?

  2. It is often said that literature is a voice for social commentary. How is this true of at least two works that you have read.

  3. To what extent can the meaning of a literary work change over time? How does this question apply to at least two works that you have read?

  4. To what degree are readers influenced by their culture and context. Explain how at least two works could be read differently depending on the culture of their audience. 

  5. 'Coming of age' is a common theme in literary works. With regards to at least two literary works, explain how the author's own youth influenced their portrayal of this theme. 

  6. With regards to at least two literary works, explain how the setting both influences the characters and reflects the author's own context.

  7. How are the characters from at least two literary works representational of people from the time and place in which they were written?

  8. Why might two of your Part 3 works be considered 'timeless'?

  9. With regards to two literary texts, explain why authors may have chosen to depict events in a particular sequence or order. 

  10. How do two literary works both reflect and challenge the spirit of the times in which they were written?

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Comments 15

Wendy Frew 17 November 2015 - 14:49

Hi David we are looking at chosing The Hours by Micheal Cunningham for Part 3. It is not on the PLA. Would this be a problem?

David McIntyre 18 November 2015 - 02:24

Hi Wendy,

It's not a problem. I don't know your plans for HL, but it strikes me that Mrs Dalloway may work in combination.

Best regards,


Wendy Frew 24 November 2015 - 08:20

Thank you, we are considering that also.

Joe Schaaf 25 December 2015 - 10:35

Hi Tim & David,

Is it ok for students to shorten the title of a work after they've identified the full title? For example, once a student identifies Chronicle of a Death Foretold, would it be ok to refer to it from that point on as Chronicle? This might save students some time by eliminating writing out the full title each time the refer to it.

Best regards,


David McIntyre 27 December 2015 - 00:18

This is a commonplace practice in Paper 2 responses, Joe, and seems widely accepted. So, no problem.

Best regards,


Joe Schaaf 27 December 2015 - 09:01


Carla Spenner 24 February 2016 - 04:44


Does anyone have the Paper 2 questions for the 2014 exam, I have the 2013 and 2015 ones but have used these repeatedly.


David McIntyre 24 February 2016 - 09:24

Hi Carla,

These questions are copyrighted, and may not be shared.

Best regards,


Kate Carolan 14 March 2016 - 04:15

A question was raised in our department today about Paper 2 for HL. With only being specified to answer the questions on two works studied, must the work in translation be used? Or could the paper 2 exam be answered with the free choice and PLA works?

David McIntyre 14 March 2016 - 05:41

Hi Kate,

Students need only reference two of the works studied at HL. One of the works does NOT have to be in translation.


Sarah Holden 11 April 2016 - 02:06

Hi David,
Is there any way to get hold of the November paper 2 for lang/it please? I want to do a last mock with my class and we have not looked at that paper yet.


Tim Pruzinsky 11 April 2016 - 05:20

Hi Sarah,

Unfortunately, I don't have a copy. If I did, for copyright purposes, I can't post it here though. Three ways I hear about people getting them:

1. Your IB coordinator by this time usually "finds" a copy and can give it to you.
2. You ask a friend, colleague, acquaintance from the November exam session to send you a copy.
3. You can buy it from the IB. I haven't checked if they have been made available yet.



imran atmaca 1 May 2016 - 17:08

The following question uses a couple of or's. Context- historical,cultural or social - can have an influence on the way literary works are written or received. Discuss with reference to two works. Does that mean students address only one of historical,cultural or social in relation to only on of production or reception ??

imran atmaca 1 May 2016 - 17:09

One of production or reception?

David McIntyre 2 May 2016 - 03:42

Hi Imran,

It's good when students respond directly to questions; at least, it's a start! The 'or' implies one or the other, but not both.

However, in this instance, I see no reason for a student not to engage in a more pluralistic response. After all, notions like 'historical', cultural', and 'social' conflate (even where social scientists seek to tease them apart), and separating them may be artificial. I think, too, considering the relationship between production and reception can be insightful and revealing. On the other hand, a student who addresses only production or reception should not be 'penalised' against the grading criteria.

Best regards,


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